The significance of the ‘spending review’ and the true choice we will make now, whether we want it or not
What is at stake in the spending review is not a question of so-called ‘cuts’, how massive they will be and whom will be most affected; that is a merely technical problem which takes for granted the nature and scope of the real problem. Nor is it only a question, absolutely unacceptable as this is, of the hardship which hundreds of thousands are bound to undergo. The gravest problem lies elsewhere.
The facts are plain and well known: a number of major banks lost inconceivable amounts of money while the bankers amassed and continue to amass unbelievable sums for which they pay ridiculous taxes. To avoid the banks’ collapse, governments poured in billions of public money to bail them out, thus becoming heavily indebted. But ‘financial markets’ don’t like such public deficits, so governments are quick to plan massive public spending ‘cuts’ in order to reduce the deficits and please ‘the markets’, that is, the banks and the bankers. Any mention of tax rises for the well-off is considered blasphemous, while a campaign just launched against ‘benefit scroungers’ <http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/200030/500-000-benefit-scroungers-will-be-made-to-seek-work/500-000-benefit-scroungers-will-be-made-to-seek-work500-000-benefit-scroungers-will-be-made-to-seek-work500-000-benefit-scroungers-will-be-made-to-seek-work500-000-benefit-scroungers-will-be-made-to-seek-work500-000-benefit-scroungers-will-be-made-to-seek-work> (seemingly a very serious thing, as it includes ‘benefit cheat hit squads’ <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11559463> ) is not directed at the true scroungers and cheats responsible for the catastrophe, but is the usual ferocious campaign against the poorer and less fortunate. To add insult to injury we are told by ministers that the ‘cuts’ which will destroy hundreds of thousands of family lives and bring havoc to the whole country are ‘fair’ – as if words had gone mad and ministers had also been abandoned by the last human capacity, that of blushing with shame.
How is this possible at all? Four elements account for this situation: an oligarchy of wealth as ruling group – in truth a plutocracy; a doctrinaire and extremely contagious political ideology: managerialism; an easily recruitable executive following: a growing managerial class which occupies key positions in all institutions and at all levels through the society; and a standard set of governing tools made up of managerial indicators and above all indebtedness (compulsory debt-incurring) to which ‘all and each’ are yoked: individuals, including ever younger people such as students, institutions and entire countries.
These four elements make a totally poisonous ‘cocktail’ – poisonous for anything to do with human dignity, love for the job well done and for the public good, freedom, democracy and justice. How does it work? As any such oligarchy in history, the defining features of the current one are: tireless quest to squeeze everything out of those beneath them, parvenu disdain for learning and culture, and total impunity (the only difference with the old oligarchies being that this one is the result of a subsidised capitalism). As for those who are not part of the oligarchy, it is basically a question of unfitness for a free or political way of life, that is to say, of servitude; but the servitude is voluntary because, in reality, women and men do not mind yielding their liberty and abdicating their responsibility through servile submission, since in the process we become petty tyrants ourselves, and this is a role we seem to end up enjoying, to the point of mistaking it for the responsibility and liberty we have just surrendered.
This is the kind of human beings that the current regime demands, promotes and shapes. It requests them from the very beginning, from the cradle, as the case of university students shows: by yoking students to huge long-term debts, that is, to what governments all over the world now reject for themselves like the plague, the recent Browne’s review of HE (strangely called an ‘independent’ review <http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/corporate/docs/s/10-1208-securing-sustainable-higher-education-browne-report.pdf> despite the unmistakable belonging of its author to the aforementioned oligarchy) seeks to make sure that students will be consumers and nothing but consumers. The difficulty is that a university degree proper is not something one can just ‘buy’, for buying something is the easiest thing to do if one has money, but a degree demands effort and dedication, qualities which nobody in their right mind has ever attributed to consumers. That is why claiming that ‘students’ paying more will demand ‘more’ (Browne’s review) is sheer sophistry. ‘More’ of what? Indeed such ‘students’ will demand more easiness, more good-timeness, and will request their qualifications regardless. Pleasing and flattering angry consumers: that will be ‘teaching’, the only ‘teaching’ permitted by the managerial indicators of ‘student’ satisfaction. But it was never a question of teaching or education; rather the purpose is to transform HE into a market, that is, into yet another profit-yielding machinery to feed the oligarchy with what it cherishes most: cripple human beings.
We can thus see the true alternative the so-called ‘cuts’ place before us, here and now: either to consecrate a situation of servitude whereby a country governed like a herd of cattle continues to feed the oligarchy with its daughters and sons, or to show the resoluteness of able and responsible women and men to, both collectively and individually, stand up against this infinite injustice and start to define our own fate. Only hardship without dignity and pride should be feared. This is the choice: want it or not, we will choose, and it will be the result of that choice what we will bequeath to those coming after us.
Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Salford